Why The Killer Can **** Right Off

EDIT: It has come to my attention that my definition of Ludonarrative was wrong. Ludonarrative is the relationship between events in a cutscene and events in the game. My points are still valid, but when I say Ludonarrative dissonance I am reffering to a disparity between a player's motivations and their actions.



(This article was a little more timely when I wrote it, but due to a change in circumstances I figured that I may as well throw it up here)

In my view, the term “video game” has become something of a misnomer. It certainly makes sense most of the time, but at this point video games are far more than sets of rules and goals. They are designed to make the player experience things, which do not always come down to the highs and lows of tactical decision making. That said, the sheer fact that one is able to acknowledge the broad potential of the video game medium does not make for great art. Just like any other form of media, the video game still requires a focus and purpose to be truly great, and that is why The Killer can fuck right off.

A brief description is necessary, though The Killer is free and only a few minutes long. I do recommend that you play it yourself, simply to make it more clear how utterly worthless it is. The Killer is a “notgame” in which you play as a man with a gun. That gun is pointed at a prisoner. The first few minutes are spent walking through various 8-bit environments by holding the space bar. After this trek, you are given a crosshair and told to shoot the prisoner. The game then does a rather clever transition (I give credit where credit is due) from a field of dead stick figures to the credits.

To recap, the entire interaction consists of holding the spacebar to walk and then choosing whether or not to shoot a prisoner. There is no context given for any of this, and no character development to speak of. It is merely a soldier, a prisoner and the overall theme of killing.

The problem that I have, the reason that The Killer can fuck right off, is that it completely fails to make a point. There is no reason to shoot the prisoner, so most people simply won’t and that will be that. The game does nothing to put you in the place of the soldier, to make you understand your character. There is extreme ludonarrative dissonance in the game, which essentially eliminates the biggest strength of interactive fiction.

But we aren’t done yet. Perhaps this ludonarrative dissonance is the whole point. By taking this moment out of context, the game proposes that any context would simply be a post-rationalisation. When you are presented with the choice to kill or not kill somebody, not killing them is the right choice. That is a valid theme for a work of art, but making a video game out of it is an absurd thing to do. The strength of video games is that they allow us to poke and prod at a system and experience it as the characters do. The Killer does NOT allow you do any of these things. It is a linear story that does nothing to make the player feel like they are experiencing it.

Imagine that The Killer was a short film. The characters never speak; all that exists between them is the power of the gun and a subtle emotional connection. This creates a world for your mind to explore during the process of the film, and it feels natural because the characters WILL behave accurately to themselves, whatever that happens to be. This is in stark contrast to a video game in which the soldier will behave accurately to the player, not themselves.

At this point one could be justified in saying that The Killer has value merely because THERE IS a message to it that can be interpreted. The problem is that I’m still not really sure what the game’s message is supposed to be. I didn’t come up with my explanation until thinking about The Killer for the express purpose of this article. There is no way to find a message in the game without facing the extreme intellectual flaws in its design.

Perhaps there is no message. Perhaps The Killer is just a thing to be experienced, and you take away from it whatever message you want. I suppose that it serves that purpose very well, but if we are satisfied with “a thing that you can experience, ” as either artists or consumers, then video games are never going to reach their true potential as an artistic medium. The Killer is ill-conceived and poorly designed. It isn’t my ambassador to the art world, it is not the thing that I would show to somebody to expose the strengths of games as a form of expression. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, The Killer can fuck right off.

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Posted by nintendoeats

EDIT: It has come to my attention that my definition of Ludonarrative was wrong. Ludonarrative is the relationship between events in a cutscene and events in the game. My points are still valid, but when I say Ludonarrative dissonance I am reffering to a disparity between a player's motivations and their actions.



(This article was a little more timely when I wrote it, but due to a change in circumstances I figured that I may as well throw it up here)

In my view, the term “video game” has become something of a misnomer. It certainly makes sense most of the time, but at this point video games are far more than sets of rules and goals. They are designed to make the player experience things, which do not always come down to the highs and lows of tactical decision making. That said, the sheer fact that one is able to acknowledge the broad potential of the video game medium does not make for great art. Just like any other form of media, the video game still requires a focus and purpose to be truly great, and that is why The Killer can fuck right off.

A brief description is necessary, though The Killer is free and only a few minutes long. I do recommend that you play it yourself, simply to make it more clear how utterly worthless it is. The Killer is a “notgame” in which you play as a man with a gun. That gun is pointed at a prisoner. The first few minutes are spent walking through various 8-bit environments by holding the space bar. After this trek, you are given a crosshair and told to shoot the prisoner. The game then does a rather clever transition (I give credit where credit is due) from a field of dead stick figures to the credits.

To recap, the entire interaction consists of holding the spacebar to walk and then choosing whether or not to shoot a prisoner. There is no context given for any of this, and no character development to speak of. It is merely a soldier, a prisoner and the overall theme of killing.

The problem that I have, the reason that The Killer can fuck right off, is that it completely fails to make a point. There is no reason to shoot the prisoner, so most people simply won’t and that will be that. The game does nothing to put you in the place of the soldier, to make you understand your character. There is extreme ludonarrative dissonance in the game, which essentially eliminates the biggest strength of interactive fiction.

But we aren’t done yet. Perhaps this ludonarrative dissonance is the whole point. By taking this moment out of context, the game proposes that any context would simply be a post-rationalisation. When you are presented with the choice to kill or not kill somebody, not killing them is the right choice. That is a valid theme for a work of art, but making a video game out of it is an absurd thing to do. The strength of video games is that they allow us to poke and prod at a system and experience it as the characters do. The Killer does NOT allow you do any of these things. It is a linear story that does nothing to make the player feel like they are experiencing it.

Imagine that The Killer was a short film. The characters never speak; all that exists between them is the power of the gun and a subtle emotional connection. This creates a world for your mind to explore during the process of the film, and it feels natural because the characters WILL behave accurately to themselves, whatever that happens to be. This is in stark contrast to a video game in which the soldier will behave accurately to the player, not themselves.

At this point one could be justified in saying that The Killer has value merely because THERE IS a message to it that can be interpreted. The problem is that I’m still not really sure what the game’s message is supposed to be. I didn’t come up with my explanation until thinking about The Killer for the express purpose of this article. There is no way to find a message in the game without facing the extreme intellectual flaws in its design.

Perhaps there is no message. Perhaps The Killer is just a thing to be experienced, and you take away from it whatever message you want. I suppose that it serves that purpose very well, but if we are satisfied with “a thing that you can experience, ” as either artists or consumers, then video games are never going to reach their true potential as an artistic medium. The Killer is ill-conceived and poorly designed. It isn’t my ambassador to the art world, it is not the thing that I would show to somebody to expose the strengths of games as a form of expression. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, The Killer can fuck right off.

Posted by Lunar_Aura

That "game" seemed like a rushed overnight college project I would've made after a bender. It would've meant something more had the stick figure you shot turned out to be a blue hedgehog and it panned down on the ground full of buried blue hedgehogs.

Posted by nintendoeats

@LunarAura: I'm missing something here. Do you mean that it would have turned out that we had shot a character that we had a pre-existing attachment to?

That would have helped, but there are other problems that the damn thing needs to sort out as well.

Posted by Spoonman671

I think you found something on the internet and put too much thought into it.

Posted by nintendoeats

@Spoonman671:Well, no, because I enjoyed picking it apart and figuring out exactly why it sucked. Alexander Flemming discovered mold in a petri dish and put too much thought into it. Look where that got us!

Anyway, there was actually an article about this on GB, which is where my journey into distaste began.

Posted by Akrid

I thought of you when I played this game, ha ha. Kind of surprised you didn't like it!

Posted by nintendoeats

@Akrid: I can't decide if that's a good or bad thing, but thanks I guess :)

Posted by IBurningStar

I "played" the thing and hated it. Until this thread I didn't even know about the shooting or not shooting him part because my guy just abruptly exploded. I didn't get anything out of it up to that point either. For a while I thought about what my reason could be to execute this guy, but then my interest started to lessen. Sadly, the thing just kept on going. And going. And going. At one point I stopped walking and just stood there for while, because I wanted to see if anything would happen. I don't have a motive to do anything, so why bother?

Posted by TobbRobb

You boys realise it's not a game right? It's a slight comment on an interesting topic, displayed in a way that might not get through to everyone.
 
It's boring, it's short, it's below good quality, it's not a goddamn game. Give it 5min and a few thoughts and leave it with all the other newsarticles and blogs that you don't really need to remember.

Posted by MattyFTM

I think you're missing the point. The Killer isn't supposed to be some finished masterpiece. It displays a concept in it's most basic form. And that concept is wonderful. Obviously the "notgame" itself is far from perfect, but it's just a simple flash thing designed to show the concept.

Moderator
Posted by crusader8463
@MattyFTM: It failed to have any meaning. It was supposed to make you emotionally aware about the plight of something, but unless you knew everything about it before you played it didn't make any sense.
Posted by nintendoeats

@MattyFTM: Ok, so what IS the concept and what is so wonderful about it? Keep in mind, I am trying to judge it purely on it's own terms here.

Posted by MikeGosot

I always kill the black stick in The Killer because i think i'm supposed to do that.

Edited by Slaker117

I feel like you've put too much effort into dissecting an experimental project and the fact that you tell it to "fuck right off" for not fulfilling your standards of what a game should be seems small minded.
 
I don't think the thing is that good either, but it doesn't need to be. It's not meant to be a magnum opus, it's a step in the learning process for the creator. That of course means it welcomes feedback, so your criticisms are valid and useful, but the way you write about it makes it sound like it offends you in some way, and that's just silly. If you want video games to evolve as a medium you need to allow failure, because at least that means there are people trying.

Posted by Akrid
@nintendoeats said:

@Akrid: I can't decide if that's a good or bad thing, but thanks I guess :)

It's neither really! I don't mean it in a negative way. It just seemed like your sort of game is all.
Posted by Rmack

Maybe if I put sad music over an uncomfortable position people will call it art!

Posted by nintendoeats

@Slaker117: Well, it DOES offend me a little bit. I am very passionate about this subject, and The Killer doesn't feel like a good idea that falls short in certain aspects: I really see it as a project that needs retooling at a basic level.

I can see the argument that I'm being too harsh, but quite frankly if a game is going to present itself as pretentiously and confidently as The Killer does, it raises the bar for itself. Perhaps most importantly of all, this is part of a very small group of games moving in a direction that I want to see, and I find it depressing that it fails so VERY poorly. The problem's with the game aren't due to it's experimental nature, they stem from a failure to apply solutions to problems that game designers have already solved. We already know how the concept of ludonarrative parity works, at least on a level more complex than The Killer acknowledges.

Posted by GlenTennis

This game is just one of those games that either connects with you or doesn't. I hated Passage while everyone was drooling over it, but I quite enjoyed The Killer. It's like a short film or short story. You can't focus on everything that a longer film or story can, so you just have to pick 1-2 things to focus on.

Posted by Ventilaator

The Killer is the perfect example of completely stupid design that somehow is completley amazing because everyone excuses it with "Because art" 
 
Braid was often artsy drivel, but it backed it up with some of the best puzzle design there is. Shit like this is just there because the designers of this can't do anything better, so they cover behind acting like art.

Posted by nintendoeats

@GlenTennis: The problem that I have is that it tries to do something that doesn't actually work without that broader context. The most effective short works are ones that give you just enough information that they function on their own, and imply something more if you dig into them. The Killer doesn't really work internally as a system, and that means that you can't imply anything further from it.

Like I said, this concept as a short film would actually work very well, because you can imply the things that aren't shown on-screen. It's poorly optimized for a short interactive experience.

Posted by HarlequinRiot

I liked The Killer a lot, but I agree that there is a huge disconnect between it's final message and how the game presents itself. On the level of being a comment of what was going on in (the country escapes me), it doesn't really work because you have no idea of the context. I almost felt like it would have been better to put that message in the beginning and then have the player's journey be more about the conflict between choosing if it's right to kill the man, what could he have done to deserve it, is it worth risking my life for that man. So, yea, in that sense I agree it's a failure. 
 
But, taking it out of that context, I think it's a fantastic piece of work. It leaves everything open and if you willingly immerse yourself in it, you find yourself going through an interesting few minutes. For me the play experience had great self-exposition as I kept asking myself new questions: "Which character am I?", "Why am I holding a gun to this person?", "What did he do wrong?", "Did he do anything wrong, or is my character 'evil'?", "I'm white and he's black, why? The game is so sparse that that detail has to mean something.", "If I stop, can I let him go?". And then you get to the end. Over that time you could convince yourself that he had to die, or not. For a lot of people, the idea of killing someone outside of a context is wrong but the fact that you can rationalize the killing makes it pretty interesting. I like The Killer a lot, but that's because I had a strong reaction to it as I played 

Posted by Xtrememuffinman

I also thought it was pretty stupid, for reasons I don't feel like going into now, but damn, the music was awesome.
 
Here it is, if anyone else was interested but couldn't find it like me.

Posted by nintendoeats

@HarlequinRiot: Fair enough, but what you are ultimately getting there is "an experience," not the concentrated thing that The Killer seems to want to be. I can completely understand enjoying it on that level.

Edited by Kyreo

Deja vu. But yeah... my thoughts on this game are known. The Killer can fuck right off.

Edited by FourWude

The inherent meaning of The Killer, is not to shoot people in real life. Especially in the face, which gamers like you, are apt in doing.

Listen up gamers. Don't shoot people in the face.

Posted by nintendoeats

@Kyreo: I just put up everything that I had. I can't decide if I'm going to bother finishing that Dreamfall article, it wasn't shaping up to be all that great anyway.

Posted by SeriouslyNow
Posted by theguy

I liked it, I wouldn't call it a "fun game" but I found it interesting.

Posted by stephengotlost

Screw this random guy's flash game!

Posted by nintendoeats

@SeriouslyNow: That doesn't really explain, you know, the game part.

Posted by SeriouslyNow

@nintendoeats said:

@SeriouslyNow: That doesn't really explain, you know, the game part.

It explains the journey process just fine. You were just following orders. You pressed SPACE BAR until you died

The message at the end isn't about the game but rather what it demonstrates.

Posted by nintendoeats

@SeriouslyNow: The thing is, the whole relationship between that TEXT ENDING and the actual game that you experience is very tenuous. The game doesn't enhance the meaning of the text, and the text comes after the game so it can't impact your experience except retroactively. If the text came first that would be a crappy solution, but it would at least give you SOMETHING to work with while playing the game. The mine mechanic is probably the only legitimately meaningful ending in the game, since it wallows in the meaninglessness of the whole enterprise (it doesn't matter what your character's goal is, because he stepped on a mine), and it's also the only one properly explained by that text.

Posted by SeriouslyNow

@nintendoeats: If you think the experience was meaningless then I can't help you. I don't mean to be rude but I think you possibly lack some life experience, education or maturity (I promise you, this is not an attack by any means) if you fail to see the connection between what you do and the text that follows (and it's not just the text either but also the number of buried bodies the camera pans past towards the end).

Posted by Napalm
@SeriouslyNow said:

@nintendoeats: If you think the experience was meaningless then I can't help you. I don't mean to be rude but I think you possibly lack some life experience, education or maturity (I promise you, this is not an attack by any means) if you fail to see the connection between what you do and the text that follows (and it's not just the text either but also the number of buried bodies the camera pans past towards the end).

Everything that happens in The Killer is subtle and is there for a reason. The way that every time you stop, the game forcefully pushes you forward, or after a few seconds, the prisoner slows and you push him with the butt of your gun. There's so many hidden nuances like that that are not overt but eventually point towards a specific theme. Personally, the game sucked me in as soon as I hit the space bar. I was pushing some innocent person with a gun to walk forward. I didn't feel comfortable taking the role at first.
Posted by nintendoeats

@SeriouslyNow: I do not appreciate you responding to my carefully constructed argument with an ad hominem. If the experience has meaning, then you should be able to articulate at least some small piece of it through words and ideas outside of the game. To simply say that anybody who doesn't understand it is "immature" when they have given it every chance to impress them is to avoid the issue.

Edited by Napalm
@nintendoeats: To be fair, you are pretty much missing the point of the entire game that, as SeriouslyNow has pointed, might be rooted in lack of education or life experience. Also, just simple common sense can cure most of the issues you seem to be bringing to the table in regards to The Killer. 
 
If you're expecting the game to hit you over the head with an idea, you're looking at it the wrong way. If you don't think so, then nobody can help you.
Posted by SeriouslyNow

@nintendoeats said:

@SeriouslyNow: I do not appreciate you responding to my carefully constructed argument with an ad hominem. If the experience has meaning, then you should be able to articulate at least some small piece of it through words and ideas outside of the game. To simply say that anybody who doesn't understand it is "immature" when they have given it every chance to impress them is to avoid the issue.

My observation is not an ad hominem. I made it clear that I was not attacking you with that comment. I am not attacking your character. The experience has meaning because it relates to people dying. War, aggression, terror and dying are expressions of the human condition and it takes a certain level of maturity to understand the human condition. The Killer articulates itself very clearly and even goes further to explain itself with text for those who are interested or still confused. I've already articulated the entirety of its message, maybe you missed it?

> You were just following orders. You pressed SPACE BAR until you died

Posted by Video_Game_King

Oh shit. I know what you're going through. You hate a (popular (at least in my case(s), it was) game, and people yell at you for not liking it because you didn't play it in the right way. Good luck getting through this.

Posted by SeriouslyNow

@Video_Game_King said:

Oh shit. I know what you're going through. You hate a (popular (at least in my case(s), it was) game, and people yell at you for not liking it because you didn't play it in the right way. Good luck getting through this.

The Killer is a popular game? This is about a message being misunderstood.

Posted by nintendoeats

@Napalm:Do NOT get me started on the phrase common sense. It is a construct defined by local culture, and even then of dubious meaning. Nothing more, nothing less. And again, if the counter0-argument is so simple than why not simply state it? And what IS this point that I'm missing? You mentioned some solid use of details, but they don't excuse flaws in the actual interactivity concept

@SeriouslyNow: It fit the technical definition of an ad-hominem in that it made an argument based on my character, not on the actual facts being presented.

What you SEEM to be trying to say is that the game will only make sense if you have a certain set of prior experiences that will cause you to automatically experience the game in a specific way. This is my key problem: the game is a chance to grant those experiences, whatever the they are (an example would be nice). That is the strength of video games. If you aren't going to do that, than a non-interactive medium makes more sense because the characters within can imply those experiences and just generally do more with the concept.

Ok, I'll grant you this: If you were a person with this requisite nebulous "experience" that gives the game meaning, then it might have value. But again, that just makes it ä thing that you can experience." You can through ideas at a wall and cobble something together and it will remind somebody of something, but that doesn't make it good. People see jesus in clouds and toast, I'm not about to value those as any more valuable than regular clouds and toast.

Posted by SeriouslyNow

@nintendoeats: I've had to re-articulate myself twice and you've still not understood. You seem preoccupied with winning a fight. OK, you win.

Posted by nintendoeats

@Video_Game_King: Yes. The Killer = Callof Duty.

As per usual, I'm taking the ideas that I have about game design, applying them to existing games, and debating the results. My conclusion is that the game utterly fails, somebody else disagrees.

It's called discussion. That's what forums are for.

Posted by The_Laughing_Man
@nintendoeats said:

@Akrid: I can't decide if that's a good or bad thing, but thanks I guess :)

I agree. The game has nothing to it. It looks like a crappy flash game. We have no reason to shoot the guy. No attachment to anyone at all.  
 
There is a game like this called "Shoot the puppy "or what ever. And you have to keep your mouse clicked or boom puppy dies. This game is nothing new. 
Posted by Video_Game_King
@SeriouslyNow said:

@Video_Game_King said:

Oh shit. I know what you're going through. You hate a (popular (at least in my case(s), it was) game, and people yell at you for not liking it because you didn't play it in the right way. Good luck getting through this.

The Killer is a popular game? This is about a message being misunderstood.

As far as Flash games go, it's pretty notable. Also, after playing it, I kinda agree with nintendoeats. This would have worked well as a short film or with more context and development. As it is, though, it just makes me wonder what my role, as the player, is in all this, and the message about Cambodia's genocide at the hands of Pol Pot was very awkwardly fit in. That information would have been far more relevant at the beginning of the game.
Edited by nintendoeats

@SeriouslyNow: All I want is for you to say "the designer did X so that you would experience Y and that worked really well for many people because Z." A concise and discussable argument.

Posted by nintendoeats

@The_Laughing_Man: That...is actually kind of interesting. It could be worked into a broader game in a cool way. For example, if you were performing an action but had to hold down the a button while you did it or a puppy would die. No gameplay punishment, just dead puppy.

THAT is effective use of the interactive medium.

Posted by The_Laughing_Man
@nintendoeats said:

@The_Laughing_Man: That...is actually kind of interesting. It could be worked into a broader game in a cool way. For example, if you were performing an action but had to hold down the a button while you did it or a puppy would die. No gameplay punishment, just dead puppy.

THAT is effective use of the interactive medium.

Sorry. Its " dont move the mouse 
 
CLICK
Posted by Video_Game_King

Woah, the hell? *transforms into Falco Lombardi* Hey, Einstein, I'm on your side! *transforms back to normal, Organization XIII cloak and all* Might as well watch the show.

Posted by TheVeteran13

I get the message but I don't think it inspires the introspection that some people seem to think it does.

Edited by nintendoeats

@The_Laughing_Man: So unless you Alt+F4, dead puppy. I think the "mouse hold down" idea is more effective, since it requires the player to actually perform the puppy saving action, but it's still and interesting little thing, thanks for that :)

@Video_Game_King: Be that as it may, I stand by the logical correctness of my post. I do, however, appreciate your support and will be sure to keep you interests in mind if I am elected for office.

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